The last time I did a five-plus hour hike in Hawaii, I almost passed out from exhaustion and dehydration (looong story). Needless to say, the eight-mile trek to Hanakapiai Falls on Kauai intimidated me.
I had been reading about it several days before our adventure. Most forums classified this hike as an advanced one because of the rugged – and sometimes crumbling – terrain. The trail weaves in and out of the steep sea cliffs of Na Pali coast. It is also the start of the very popular backpacking adventure to Kalalau Valley (about 11 miles one-way).
For some reason, I never had any desire to backpack to Kalalau (I kayaked the coast, and we camped in that valley). Hiking to Hanakapiai Valley would be plenty good. For those not familiar, the Na Pali coast stretches from the northern most point of Kauai to the Western-most point. There are several deep valleys in between, only accessible by boat or trail.
Because the hike to Hanakapiai Falls may take up to eight hours roundtrip, my fiance and I decided to start as early as possible. We drove out to the North Shore at the crack of dawn, stopping in Kapaa for some coffee! The night before, we packed sandwiches, granola bars, fruits and lots of water. I had read that one liter would not be enough for two people, and I definitely did not want a repeat of my hike from hell!
By the time we arrived, most of the parking near the trailhead had been taken, so we parked about a half-mile away in a gravel lot and walked. It was a good way to warm up our legs. The number of cars in the parking lot was definitely a good indicator of how crowded the trail turned out to be. By the quarter-mile mark, I understood why it had been nicknamed the “Hanakapiai Highway.” We had some moments of quiet to ourselves, but shish, no wonder the trail needs to be maintained so often!
The first two miles takes hikers to Hanakapiai Beach; the next two takes hikers into the valley, where the much-anticipated falls awaits. We skipped past the beach and went straight to the falls. Basically, the hike starts out with a steep incline to the sea cliff edge, weaves in and out of the coast and spits you out to the beach. The trail to the falls does a couple of switchbacks across the stream. It can be easy to get lost if you do not pay attention to the pink ribbons. Otherwise, follow the stream up toward the falls.
The way out had been a little challenging for me. We still had plenty of water, but the heat really got to me. By that time, it was about high noon and all I could think was, OCEAN. I couldn’t wait to jump head first into the cool, inviting Kee Beach waters. That’s the beach right at the trailhead. It’s also where we launch our kayaks from several years ago for our trip down the Na Pali.
Overall, I highly recommend this hike for anyone who is looking for a good challenge. It can be enjoyable if you come prepared; however, make sure not to go during the winter months, as the rain really messes up the trail and makes the hike a muddy mess.